A Conversation with SOME’s Father John Adams

So Others Might Eat (SOME) is an interfaith, non-profit organization that helps meet the needs of the District’s poor and homeless by offering services, such as affordable housing, job training, addiction treatment, and counseling.

LISC DC has partnered with SOME on a number of projects, the most recent being the Benning Road (The Conway Center) project.

The Conway Center will house affordable housing, health services, and job training all under one roof.

Father John Adams, President of SOME, has directed the community-based organization for more than 35 years.

In a recent interview with LISC DC, Father John discusses the impact of his upbringing on his ministry,  affordable housing, the expansion of SOME’s services, and SOME’s partnership with LISC DC.

How did your upbringing affect your current ministry?

I grew up in a family of seven siblings in Erie, Pennsylvania. Our town was a very Catholic one where 80% of kids went to Catholic schools.

And most of the fathers worked in big industrial factories, which made it possible for families to have a decent living. My father worked in a steel mill.

 

At the time we were renting a decent house and my parents were actually building a house of their own. But dad was severely injured on the job, which did not provide health insurance in the 1940’s.  He could not work except for odd jobs here and there.

It wasn’t long before we became homeless, living in tents, a trailer and in public housing, all the while struggling greatly to make ends meet. At 16, I was allowed to work in the summertime to help support the family. Sadly, my dad died in his 40’s, which made life even more difficult.

Through it all, it was the faith community which inspired me during that very difficult time. Catholic nuns and priests stepped forward and quietly and always in a dignified way helped us with food, clothing and other needs. They also insisted on us continuing our grade school and high school education, which we couldn’t afford, but which they made possible.

 

What influenced you to choose a faith-based career?

It was the Catholic nuns and priests’ continued help and encouragement that impressed me greatly. I wanted to be like them. I was accepted into the Seminary and they sent me to Catholic University for Philosophy, Theology and the Graduate School of Social Work.

Social work, I have always thought, is clearly putting theology, the Bible, into practice.  And it gave me the tools to serve those most in need by helping to address the root causes of poverty, hunger and homelessness here at SOME.

It also opened up a world of working not just in my Catholic community but with people of all faiths. That has been an enriching experience for me.  And over the years it has been especially amazing for SOME to have the support from the business and corporate communities who are active socially and also want to support and volunteer here.

 

What does SOME view as the biggest need in DC?

DC’s greatest need is for more affordable housing. There are more than 7,000 homeless men, women and children in our city, and many more who are at risk of becoming homeless because they can’t afford a decent place to live.

It is this need that led SOME to launch our Affordable Housing Development Initiative in 2005, with a goal of creating 1,000 new units of safe, affordable housing for homeless and extremely low-income individuals and families. To date, we are more than 75% of the way to our goal, with 784 housing units completed or placed under development through the Initiative.

 

What drove SOME to expand its work in feeding the poor to housing the homeless?

The incredible need that we saw among the people who were coming to our Dining Room for meals. It was very clear from the beginning that our guests needed services that extended well beyond food. We opened Shalom House, our first affordable housing program, in 1989. It was the first Single Room Occupancy (SRO) program that had been developed in the District in many years.

 

SOME has partnered with LISC on a number of housing projects. Is there one in particular that stands out to you?

Truly, all of them, because each one has enabled us to provide housing for folks who would otherwise be homeless or unable to afford a safe, decent place to live. Our partnership with LISC has been incredibly important in enabling us to create affordable housing. Two recent projects that were wonderful were The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Building and Fendall Heights.

In partnership with LISC, we were able to move families from DC General shelter into safe, dignified apartments at The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Building. Fendall Heights gave us the opportunity to provide safe, affordable housing to families with veteran heads of household, which is an honor.

 

What led to SOME’s partnership with LISC on the Benning Road/Conway Center project?

The timing was quite providential – we began developing this project at the same time that LISC was launching its investment in combining affordable housing with health care and other services. SOME has a long and fruitful partnership with LISC, so there was trust on both sides, and we were both approaching the same innovative concept at the same time.

 

Has SOME’s vision changed over the past 37 years?

Though our services have expanded greatly over the past 37 years, SOME’s vision has been unchanged. We remain focused on serving and empowering those in our city who are homeless and low-income, who need food, jobs and a safe, decent place to live.

Thirty-seven years ago we had the vision, but not the capacity to address all of those needs – we only had our Dining Room for the Homeless on O Street, NW, which continues to serve a hot breakfast and lunch, every day of the year.

Today we have nearly 40 programs that meet individuals’ emergency needs and enable them to rebuild and stabilize their lives. This includes the SOME Center for Employment Training, which prepares low-income Washingtonians for living wage careers in the building maintenance and medical administrative fields.

At The Conway Center, the Center will be able to serve twice as many students per year. We have also developed and now manage 686 units of affordable housing for single adults and families.

 

Where does SOME go from here? What are your plans for the future?

For right now, we are focused on completing construction of The Conway Center and getting it up and running, while continuing to provide our existing services across the city.